Football is an inherently dangerous sport and the risk of physical injury is known and generally appreciated. Due to more recent studies on head to head impacts, concussions are also now one of the most prominent and feared risks associated with the sport. So much so that 40% of American parents would prefer if their children played a sport other than football.
This sentiment is based on a new awareness of the connection between concussions and long term side effects. It has always been known that concussions can cause short-term effects such as vomiting, headaches, depression, and amnesia. However, research shows that even after these symptoms have disappeared, the effects of a concussion can linger.
Individuals who have experienced multiple concussions can later suffer from memory and attention deficits. These long term symptoms are similar to those found in those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease. In addition, athletes with multiple concussions are more likely to experience a thinning of the cortex in the same part of the brain as those who suffer from Alzheimer’s.
As if there potential effects weren’t enough for parents to worry about, parents may have to worry about another type of injury: a stroke. A stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks blood flow to or from the heart and thereby interrupts blood flow to the brain. This lack of blood flow causes brain cells to die and can cause brain damage.
On December 15, 2013, Russell Allen, an outside linebacker for the Jacksonville Jaguars, suffered a stroke during the middle of a game against the Buffalo Bills. The stroke occurred early into the third quarter as Allen collided face-to-face with a Bills player. Allen walked away from the tackle feeling a little “buzzed” but he continued to play in the game. Allen showed no immediate signs that he was injured.
However, at some point later in the game Allen began to experience double vision. Allen asked a teammate to look at his eye because Allen believed that was the problem. It was not until after Allen finished playing in the game that he began to experience an intense headache and light sensitivity. The next morning, Allen woke up with the same symptoms so he sought treatment from the team’s trainers. It was discovered that Allen had suffered a stroke.
Tests showed that Allen had dime-sized spot on his cerebellum that was dead. Allen has also exhibited certain motor function deficiencies, including trouble picking up and holding onto objects. Allen visited three neurosurgeons, all of whom verified that he would no longer be able to play football again.
The doctors explained that Allen suffered a “carotid artery dissection, a tear in the layers of the artery wall that supplies oxygen to the brain- an injury that occurs in a small percentage of high-speed motor vehicle accidents.” At this point, it is unclear how someone who has a dead spot on his cerebellum would react to another concussion, whether on or off the field.
Head injuries are difficult to detect and things like double vision and wooziness are a common part of football. However, symptoms, such as those suffered by Allen should not be so easily overlooked. As Allen’s story demonstrates, these symptoms are the body’s way of saying that something is wrong.
With new research showing the long term effects of concussions and the story of Russell Allen, it is time that athletes, coaches, and parents begin to reassess their view of neurological injuries. Even if what occurred to Allen is not a frequent occurrence, there is no such thing as “just a concussion.” Football players are tough but they are not immortal. They should take the advice of Russell Allen and not overlook any symptoms because “if it feels like something’s wrong, something’s wrong.”